Friday, October 24, 2014

Kudos to Sonoma Harvest Fair Winners - Hawley's Meritage and Muscardini's Cassata Cabernet

Two organically grown wines won big at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair's Professional Wine Contest. Winners were announced Oct. 3 and both Hawley and Cassata took home medals.

1. Best of Class - Hawley's 2010 Meritage ($52)
Hawley's first Meritage release - the 2010 - has been on quite the winning streak. This blend - 48% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Sauvigon with 4% of Cabernet Franc - has won several major awards at both the state and county levels. Not bad for a wine's inaugural release.

Paul Hawley with California State Fair awards for Hawley 
First it took home an award at the California State Fair as the Best Red Wine from Sonoma County and the state's best Bordeaux Blend.

Then in October, it was Best of Class at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

It's aged 2 years in French oak. 500 cases made and some are apparently still for sale on Hawley's web site.

The wine is bottle labeled "Made with Organic Grapes" (which means both the vineyard and the winery are certified organic).

Aromas: dark berry and plums on the nose with notes of flint and clove.

John Hawley (with his falcon) in the family's Dry Creek vineyard
2. Best of Class - Muscardini Cellars' 2012 Cassata Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

The 23 acre Cassata Vineyard in Glen Ellen in Sonoma Valley is the source for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that fueled Muscardini Cellars' Best of Class win in the Cabernets $35-45 class. The vineyard is certified both organic and Biodynamic.

The Cassata family also makes olive oil, which it sells on its own Cassata-Sonoma web site, along with its newly released 2008 Utopium Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

IN PHOTOS: New Kid on the (Cabernet) Block: Sonoma County's Viluko Vineyards Debuts Its First Releases

Sonoma's got a new winery with organic vines. On October 4, Viluko Vineyards welcomed visitors to its first open house and to celebrate the release of its new 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (800 cases/$50) and 2013 Sauvignon Blanc(144 cases/$22).

Viluko also announced the debut of its second label - Split Rock - and its inaugural release - the 2010 Split Rock Cabernet (86 cases/$30). 

Proprietors Pedro Arroyo, a Chilean born real estate investor, and his wife Karen Arroyo, purchased the 500 acre property along Mark West Creek (in the Mayacamas Mountains east of Santa Rosa) as a getaway, but were later inspired to become vintners, hiring Tim Milos as their winemaker.

The Latin American influence was felt in the gourmet Peruvian food catered by Sazon, which displayed incredibly sophisticated flavors and cooking. They paired well with the Viluko wines, which are food friendly and would pair well with a wide variety of cuisines.

Visit the winery's web site for details on tasting and ordering the wines.

The estate vineyards - 38 acres in vines - were certified in 2005
The 2011 Cabernet (800 cases/$50)
Mark West Creek runs through the property
(but is not used for any on site use)
The rustic barn made a picturesque setting for the open house
Split Rock is Viluko's second label; it makes one Cabernet ($30)
Interior of the barn
Delicious Peruvian cuisine from Saron

The wine lineup - from left to right - Split Rock Cabernet, Viluko
Sauvignon Blanc and Viluko Cabernet Sauvignon

Portland Magazine's Top 50 Oregon Wines - 2014: Small (Lot) is Beautiful?

Five organically grown wines made Portland Monthly Magazine's annual ranking of Oregon's Top 50 Wines this year including a surprising choice in the top organic spot. The tiny Croft Vineyards Pinot Noir, only 180 cases made, took 4th place overall with a 98.5 point score.

This microwinery produced only 300 cases of wine last year. (This year it's ramping up to a whopping 500 cases). Located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in Polk County, west of I-5, Croft Vineyards grows grapes, mostly sold to other vintners. (King Estate and Spindrift Cellars each make award-winning single vineyard Pinots from Croft). Croft has two vineyard properties with 50+ acres in vine.

Next year's vintage is already hitting the shelves - and production has doubled - to 350 cases. The price remains the same - just $35.

“I know Croft for its great sauvignon blanc, but I think we were all floored when this wine was unveiled. It displayed those classic cool vintage Oregon characteristics, making it immediately charming but with potential to improve over the next five years." said judge Michael Garofola (general manager at Accanto in Portland), quoted in Portland Monthly.

Riesling and Pinot Noir producer Brooks Wines had two winning wines in the top 50, including its 2011 Temperance Hill Pinot Noir ($48) which got 97.5 points. Temperance Hill, perhaps Oregon's greatest Pinot Noir vineyard, regularly produces top wines, as does Brooks.

Ribbon Ridge Pinot producer Brick House almost always has a wine in the top 50 and this year was no exception. It's 2012 Cuvée du Tonnelier ($45), comprised of grapes from its oldest Pommard vines, took 21st place with a score of 97.3 points. Quoted in the magazine, judge and wine director Joel Gunderson said, “It’s pretty simple—you should drink Doug Tunnell’s wine as often as you have the opportunity. I think of his wines as being soft-spoken but incredibly opinionated (and I often agree with his opinion).”

A second wine grown by Croft Vineyards, Andrew Rich's 2013 Croft Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (390 cases made, $22/available for pre-order now), scored 96.74 with the judges, putting it #36 on the list.

Rounding out the organic winners was King Estate's 2012 Domaine Oregon Pinot Gris (921 cases made, $28), now sold out at the winery but available from at least one online merchant. King Estate has the largest contiguous organic vineyard in the country - with 470 acres in vine - but it makes only three wines solely from certified grapes. (One of the others is a single vineyard designate from Croft). The Domaine Oregon Pinot Gris is one.

The total cases made of all five of these wines combined is less than 2,000. Three of the wines were micro productions - 200 cases or less. Is this proof that small is beautiful? 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrate Food Sovereignty Day: Miguel Altieri (Video)

After attending a panel on agroecology hosted at Berkeley's Brower Center recently, I've started auditing the agroecology class at U.C. Berkeley to learn more from some of the experts in the field. And so it's only appropriate to mention that today IS Food Sovereignty Day - and to celebrate the role vineyards are starting to play - albeit on a minuscule scale to date - in embracing agricultural biodiversity. Just like in olden times, when farms grew not just wine grapes, and olive trees, but, as small farms, many diverse crops.

If we believe that wine is food - a concept traditionally embraced in Europe - we can think more about how wine production fits into the broader food production system using the agroecology lens. This lens emphasizes biodiversity, small scale farming, polyculture and a systems approach to managing a farm, maximizing on farm inputs and minimizing the use of fossil fuel based fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides common in California's 500,000 acres of vineyards (where 98 percent use them).

Grains grown between vineyard rows in Mendocino at Frey Vineyards
A number of wineries with organic vineyards have been evolving approaches that increasingly embrace biodiversity. In fact, a delegation of Chilean students and experts recently visited a number of these U.S. wineries in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. (More on that story in a future post).

Miguel Altieri, a world famous agroecology leader, heads the agroecology dept. at Berkeley. He's also served as a leader on food policy programs to the United Nations and has been an expert consulting on food policy for the Vatican as well as Prince Charles.

Here's a brief (4 min.) 2012 video interview in which Altieri explains the problems - how industrial ag has failed to feed all of us - and how agroecology provides solutions.

Read more about his work online at or this interview and find more videos here.

Farms that are also wineries including Preston Farm & Winery and Front Porch Farms, both in Healdsburg. Quivira also farms a limited number of crops and showcases endangered food varieties (which Slow Foods have deemed threatened) in its Ark of Taste garden,

In Mendocino, Nelson Family Vineyards and Frey Vineyards are involved in the Mendocino Grain Project, interplanting rows of grain - for local consumption - between vine rows.

Harvesting grains at Frey 
Look for more on this topic in future posts, and, in the meantime, enjoy this Altieri video.

Monday, October 13, 2014

8 Great Sonoma Vintners with Organic Vines Open Their Doors - Nov. 1

Are you the type of person who finds it off-putting to make an appointment to visit a winery? The Sonoma Nov. 1 tour program is a great way to visit some of the wineries that are not open on a walk-in basis.

This year's tour options include the following wineries with organically grown wines:

• Richard Arrowood's Amapola Creek

A standout winery below the famed Monte Rosso vineyard, in the newly designated Moon Mountain District AVA, it's run by Richard Arrowood, who put Sonoma Cabs on the map before selling his Arrowood Vineyards (now owned by KJ) and setting up shop at higher elevation. He's been a proponent for organic grape growing, converted by his vineyard manager Phil Coturri.

You'll see the estate and try the wines, many of which come from his certified organic estate vineyards.

Look for: Cabernet

• Canihan

A Sonoma Coast producer, located near the Carneros, this Pinot Noir producer craft artisanal wines, all from its certified organic estate. Known for Pinot, it also produces a praiseworthy Syrah and Rosé.

Look for: Pinot Noir

• Dane Cellars

Tiny artisanal producer, whose winemaker - Bart Hansen - works for his day job at Lasseter Family Winery in Sonoma Valley. He makes one wine from Lasseter's certified Justi Creek vines under the Dane Cellars label.

Look for: Justi Creek Syrah

• Kamen Estate

A shining gem that's the creative collaboration of owner Robert Kamen (screenwriter par excellence) and vineyard manager Phil Coturri (organic and Biodynamic grape whisperer) who have made the fruit from these cobbled soils sing. Spectacular vineyard views from the estate.

Look for: Cabernet, Syrah and more

Laurel Glen

A fabled Sonoma Cabernet producer getting its mojo back now that it's under new management. The vineyards are now in transition to organic certification. Sample the Bordeaux wares.

Look for: Cabernet Sauvignon

• Stone Edge

A new Moon Mountain label that brings Mayacamas Mountain fruit to life, it's also under vineyardist Phil Coturri's grape growing tent. Its best wine got a whopping 94 pt. score from Parker and sells for $80 (a fraction of what Napa's Parker point equivalents cost).

Look for: Cabernet Sauvignon

• Winery Sixteen 600

Tiny micro-brand from the Coturri family's own small vineyard, producing high alcohol wines from Moon Mountain vines.

Look for: everything on offer


$110; available online now. Previous years have sold out. Click here for more info.